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Shira Elinav's soccer journey from playing with boys to leading the girls

Junior forward's career has taken her from Israel to Connecticut and now Kansas

3 min read
KU junior Shira Elinav (27) sprints to the ball during the Jayhawks' exhibition win over South Dakota State in mid-August. [Chance Parker photo]

Shira Elinav's journey to becoming a key member of the Kansas women's soccer team began in Jerusalem, Israel, where she was the only girl among a group of boys playing soccer.

Although no one in her family played the sport, and it was considered more of a sport for men in Israel, that didn’t stop Elinav from asking the crew to let her join their soccer game.

“Soccer was my first real love. Ever since I played soccer in elementary school, I just knew it’s what I wanted to do,” Elinav said. “From that moment on, it was just me and the ball.”

There wasn’t a women’s team for Elinav to play on, so she continued to play with the boys until her family moved to Connecticut in 2009.

“That's when I was really exposed to a league of women’s soccer,” says Elinav. “I started playing recreationally there. Then during the years, I just moved up. And it became a main part of my life.”

Before joining the Jayhawks, Elinav had a tough decision ahead of her. She served in the Israeli military from 2018-2020. After that, she had to decide whether to try and play soccer in Europe, or play on a Division I college team in the U.S.

“Both of my parents are doctors, so they told me, ‘You’re not continuing your life without additional education,’” the KU junior recalled. “I kind of had this ultimatum and had to go D1, and I’m really happy I chose Kansas.”

During the 2022 season, Elinav scored a team-high 8 goals and logged 1,181 minutes, leading the team offensively. Her 45 shots, 22 shots on goal and 20 points also led the team, and she was second on the squad with 4 assists.

“The team had my back,” she said. “I felt like everyone was supporting me and believed in me, and I just happened to get in a good rhythm and worked off of that.”

Kansas isn’t the only team that has had Elinav’s back. She has 11 caps playing for the Israeli women’s national team and has logged over 300 minutes with that club, even scoring a goal during the team’s 4–0 win in international play over Georgia earlier this year. She also spent time on Israel’s youth national teams, netting an impressive 11 goals in 24 international matches.

Elinav’s 24 starts at Kansas in 37 appearances during the past two seasons are not her only notable starts to date. In 2021, the KU biology major started for the Israeli national team in its World Cup qualifier match against Portugal.

For Elinav, the difference between finely tuned technical play and all-out physicality is the most noticeable difference between the D1 level in the United States and the international stage in Israel.

“D1 is more fast-paced compared to the soccer that I came from,” she said. “Back home, it's a little bit more technical, it’s more focused on the technical aspect rather than physical and athletic aspects.”

The lineup of soccer players that have inspired Elinav’s growth and career thus far include David Beckham and Abby Wambach — but her biggest inspiration is Cristiano Ronaldo.

“I'm a big fan of Ronaldo and just how hard he works,” she says. “It doesn't matter where he's playing or what age he's at. He's always the hardest worker on the team and has a lot of success. I really look up to him.”

As Elinav looks forward, she’s preoccupied with Kansas’ current season. The Jayhawks have jumped out to a 2-0-2 start and will host Arkansas State at 7 p.m. Thursday.

With nine all-time NCAA tournament appearances and a Big 12 title in 2019, Elinav believes the 2023 season could be something special, too.

“We have a great group of girls, we’re connected, and we feel ready for the upcoming challenges,” she said. “We know that this is going to be our year because we have gone through so much adversity during the past couple of years, and we worked through all of it. We feel ready to take this season on.”

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